Stress & Addiction

We have all heard the age-old question: which came first, the chicken or the egg? Well, switch “chicken” for “stress” and “egg” for “addiction” and the same conundrum exists. Various studies by the National Institute of Drug Abuse have found a link between stress and addiction, concluding that chronic stress can lead to addiction, and addiction can lead to stress.

We all experience stress, but do we really know what it is and how it affects us? Stress is more than road rage during rush hour traffic. It is more than tossing and turning the night before a big presentation. Stress is an emotional and physical burden that causes the body to release neurochemicals and hormones. What is so dangerous about some extra hormones? Well, they make you more susceptible to addiction or relapse.  Because drugs and alcohol also release the same hormones, stress and substance abuse have a similar damaging effect on the brain.

A study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health found that stress causes changes in the prefrontal lobe, which is the part of the brain responsible for impulse control. These changes to the brain also increase the risk of addiction.

Overwhelming levels of stress often cause people to seek out ways to self-medicate. Some believe that drugs or alcohol might be the solution they are searching for. But this is only a short-term solution (and not a good one) to a much bigger problem. Drugs and alcohol might be able to momentarily mask the problem, but the stressor will still be there when their effects wear off. And because of the changes that stress has caused on the brain, one glass of wine can quickly turn into a bottle, and in some cases, even lead to addiction. Before you know it, the so-called solution has become the problem.

You might think that a drink or two might have help you forget about the pile of bills on your desk but the truth is that substance abuse can exponentially increases stress. Substance abuse can hinder your work or school performance, damage relationships, lead to debt, and deteriorate your health –  all common causes of stress.

In the beginning, stress may indirectly lead to addiction, but addiction inevitably leads to stress, which then perpetuates addiction – and so on. It is a never-ending cycle in which the individual suffering from addiction will never find the relief that they seek.

So, what can you do to prevent stress and everything that comes with it? First, you need to recognize the signs of stress. Then find ways to manage your stress – remember not everyone handles stress the same way so try different things such as yoga, cooking, painting, or running.  Lastly, if you feel overwhelmed, reach out to a loved one or a professional.

If you suffer from substance abuse or on the road to recovery, dealing with stress might be more challenging, but seeking out the right treatment, support, and implementing some simple stress-reducing techniques into your everyday life can make all the difference.

Money, work, school, family, relationships, change…  The causes of stress are endless. While stress is an unavoidable part of life, it does not mean that you should let it take over your life.

Learning how to manage stress is key to your overall well-being, especially for those in recovery.